The Water Leaves
Literally, it’s gone. If you followed Hurricane Irma, you probably saw a bunch of viral photos and videos showing the water gone from various coastlines. It happened in the Bahamas first and then along nearly all of Florida’s Gulf coast. Though the sea-less waterfront areas seemed like a precursor to a tsunami, the truth is much more benign. In some tracks, a hurricane’s wind will literally sweep the water out to sea, exposing land that probably hasn’t been dry in, well, ever.
We don’t see this phenomenon often in the United States because hurricanes approach from the east or southeast, and their counter-clockwise-rotating winds create storm surge - pushing water towards land – rather than the drain we saw prior to Irma. Irma’s track carried her up the state, rather than across, causing tropical storm and hurricane-force winds along the Gulf coast well in advance. And those winds pushed the water away from the coastline rather than towards it, giving us fantastic photos of this rarely-seen phenomenon.
Partially Burnt Trees
The west side of all my trees and bushes is burnt. It’s bizarre to look at. It piqued my interest because I don’t remember seeing this after Hurricane Andrew, or any other hurricane or tropical storm I’ve weathered in Florida. After a bit of Google research, I realized a) there simply were no trees left after Hurricane Andrew, and 2) I’ve never lived close enough to the coast to witness this. In Homestead, we were about 10 minutes away. But, again, no trees so moot point. In Ocala, we were about 30-40 miles inland.
My initial thought was wind burn, but it wasn’t super windy here. Google offered a different explanation – saltwater burn. Yes, if you live close enough to the coast – we’re about ¾ of a mile now – the trees will become burnt by al the saltwater whipped up into the wind. Despite how strange it looks, the trees and bushes should recover eventually.
I’ve only seen it during Hurricane Andrew, and it’s one of the strangest (and scariest) things to see during a hurricane. Among the bent over trees and sideways swept trees, there were balls of lightning on the ground. Hurricanes aren’t known for their lightning, even here in the lightning capital of the United States. They expected their energy in other ways, like wind and heavy rain.
Ball lightning is so rare it was only first captured on film in 2012. I couldn’t find any information on ball lightning associated with hurricanes, perhaps because we don’t often see category 5 hurricanes over land. During Andrew, we witnessed what looked like lit tumbleweed bouncing across the back yard. They weren’t the typical bright blue balls of lightning scientists describe as ball lightning. Rather, they looked, like I said, like electrified tumbleweeds. Strange and scary indeed. Incidentally, lightning sprites were photographed above Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when it reached category 5 strength for a brief time.
The Calm Before the Storm
Living in Florida, I’ve been around a lot of tropical storms and hurricanes, and even more thunderstorms. I’ve witnessed that calm before the storm countless times before a thunderstorm. The air becomes really still and five or ten minutes later, the calm is over and the wind is blowing as the storm approaches.
I haven’t really experienced this before a hurricane, with one exception. Tropical storms and hurricanes usually have outer bands that make an appearance long before the storm does. The night Andrew struck, however, was the one and only time I experienced that calm before a hurricane, and it was eerie. Andrew’s compact size likely made it possible. Andrew’s hurricane-force winds measured just 50 miles across and tropical storm-force winds only 120 miles across. By comparison, Irma’s hurricane-force winds measured 126 miles winds, with tropical storm winds out nearly 350 miles.
I sat outside on August 23, 1992 at around 9 PM. The air was dead calm. And quiet. Much too quiet for The Redlands, Miami’s farm country. No crickets chirping. No owls hooting. No birds at all. No frogs croaking by the canal. It sounded as if life had fled the area.
Animals are known for having a special sense when bad weather is approaching. Some birds fly away. Most animals, birds included, find cover in trees or bushes. Since that night, I’ve gauged a hurricane’s intensity in my area by what the wildlife is doing. If they’re gone or hiding, if there’s that calm before the storm, it’s a good bet that the hurricane is going to hit us hard.
© 2017 Cristina Vanthul